At the beginning of what is shaping up to be a divisive election year in Minneapolis, City Council candidates vying to represent north Minneapolis gathered Thursday to discuss issues that ranged from the minimum wage to the 2018 Super Bowl.
North Minneapolis-based nonprofit Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, or NOC, hosted the forum at New Creation Church. It included seven candidates running in the fourth and fifth wards.
The forum drew passionate responses throughout the evening from candidates and attendees alike. It began with a bang, in the form of a drum line and dancers who marched single-file into the sanctuary, filling the room with bright, sharp sound. The crowd of dozens filling the pews cheered as the young performers exited, some rising to their feet in a standing ovation.
"The City Council makes a lot of important decisions," NOC field director Mike Griffin told the crowd at the beginning of the forum, noting some of NOC's core work.
The organization has been increasingly visible at City Hall in recent years, focusing on issues including a $15 minimum wage, workplace scheduling requirements and investing in mental health resources and community programs instead of more police.
NOC will endorse candidates this year, Griffin said. Surveys that forum attendees filled out with comments on how candidates answered each question will inform the endorsement process.
Election Day is Nov. 7.
Council President Barb Johnson, who represents the Fourth Ward, was the only incumbent in attendance. Fifth Ward Council Member Blong Yang declined to attend because of a prior commitment.
The race in Johnson's ward is crowded, with Phillipe Cunningham, Stephanie Gasca, Marcus Harcus and Phillip Murphy all in the running. Yang has two challengers: Jeremiah Ellison and Raeisha Williams.
Dozens of candidates have expressed interest in running for City Council seats, and all but two incumbents are seeking re-election. Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden said in December that she would not seek re-election, and Council Member Jacob Frey announced a mayoral bid in early January.
Questions at Thursday's forum covered issues including affordable housing, the Northern Metal recycling facility and how the 2018 Super Bowl will affect the community.
North Minneapolis residents took turns asking questions, and shared stories about how the issues at hand affected them.
Some candidates expressed views closely aligned with NOC positions, and drew cheers from the crowd with deeply personal stories about living and working in north Minneapolis and promises to advocate for the community from City Hall.
Johnson, who's been in office for nearly two decades, returned repeatedly to her track record and experiences on the council. At times, the crowd pushed back.
In a question about the aftermath of the Jamar Clark shooting, from two young men who protested at the Fourth Precinct, Johnson said she thought the city did a good job handling protests peacefully.
The crowd began to murmur, and some shouted back.
"I appreciate the people that demonstrated there," Johnson said.
"You're welcome," someone called from the back of the sanctuary.